Eat nuts and seeds every day – especially chia

  • 11 May 2010
  • Reading time 3 mins
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Nuts and seeds are positively good for you, lowering cholesterol and reducing risk for heart disease, says a major new study. Find out which are best for your health.

Nuts and seeds have always been a staple food of homo sapiens, until 20th century fat phobia kicked in. In case you didn’t know there’s never been any evidence that eating nuts or seeds is anything but positively good for you. Today’s study of 25 high quality trials in the Archives of Internal Medicine[2010;170[9]:821-827], confirms that eating 67 grams a day, a small handful, have lower cholesterol with more HDL and less LDL, lower triglycerides (blood fats) and consequently a reduction in risk for cardiovascular disease.

Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of antioxidants such as vitamin E and plant sterols and soluble fibres. Colder climate nuts and seeds are also rich sources of omega 3 fats. Walnut, flax and chia seeds are the best in this regard. They are also abundant in minerals. Almonds and sesame seeds, for example, are especially high in calcium, while pumpkin seeds are a superb source of magnesium. All nuts and seeds are rich in zinc. But which is the best all rounder? The answer is chia seeds, a staple food of Meso-America, going back to pre-BC, but this incredible food was actively discouraged by the Spanish conquistadores since it was virtually worshipped, much to the chagrin of the Christian conquerors and thus fell foul to the equivalent of 16th century ‘novel food’ act. So, if you haven't heard of them now you know why. But chis seeds are making a comeback.

Chia seeds are nutritionally superior to flax in that they are highly in omega 3, antioxidants , calcium and magnesium, much lower in sodium and, like flax, a very good source of protein, as well as soluble fibre. Chia oil is 64% alpha linolenic acid (omega 3) and 19% linoleic acid (omega 6), compared to flax which is 58% omega 3 and 15% omega 6. In truth they are both excellent sources of omega 3 but chia definitely has the edge on minerals providing 631mg of calcium and 466mg of magnesium per 100 gram (flax is 199mg of calcium and 362mg of magnesium). I have a 15 gram serving every day (a heaped dessertspoon) which is giving me 100mg of calcium and 70mg of magnesium. That’s a really decent amount. Chia is also very low in sodium (19mg versus 34mg per 100g in flax) and very high in fibre, as is flax. Both provide soluble fibres. Both are high in protein.

Chia is about 20% protein, much higher than grains, including quinoa. Rice is only 7% while oats is pretty much the best grain in this regard with 17% protein. Flax has some disadvantages too which stopped it becoming a staple food. Historically it was used more for clothing and for oil. Unlike Chia is has quite a high level of anti-nutrients such as glycosides, trypsin inhibitors, phytic acid and others. I don’t want to put you off eating flax but these anti-nutrients don’t make it the ideal food in large quantities while you could literally live off chia. Chia, being very high in antioxidants, also stores for longer. If you’ve never tried Chia it has a much nicer, slightly nutty flavour than flax and tastes good on its own, added to cereal, or on salads, soups our in bread or cakes. It hasn’t quite hit the health food stores yet but Totally Nourish sell both ground and unground seeds in a sealed bag by mail order. They are tiny, like sesame, but they have a soft outer shell so there's no need to grind them to to get out the all the goodness. If you put them on cereal their soluble fibres absorb moisture, much like oats. You can also use ground Chia flour for baking. You can buy them milled or whole. You can find out more here on this website -